All too often we tend to think depression has a “look.” It is easy to assume that depression comes in only one shape and size. The same goes for alcoholism. I am quite sure everyone has their own version of what someone addicted to alcohol looks like. I always pictured a man with long and tangled hair, sporting ratty blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a hole in the pocket, most likely wearing boots.
Yet when I was 18 years old, depression and alcohol addiction had a different look. It looked like a straight A, 4.0 private school graduate on scholarship to her first choice college. It looked like sorority rush and an apartment with three friends. At 19, it looked like an engagement to a man I love, a steady job, and an entire lifetime of happiness ahead. At 20, it looked like newlywed bliss and honeymooning on the beaches. At 21, a healthy newborn baby and the chance to be a stay-at-home mommy. Yes, life can look like rainbows and butterflies to everyone on the outside looking in.
I first recognized that I was struggling with alcohol addiction when I was 18 years old. My freshman year of college was a whirlwind. I took on too many classes (an 8:00 am class for starters...do not do that), I worked too many hours, and I set aside too much time for partying and not enough time for studying. I also had a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out); which meant that if there was a party, I was at it. It also meant that if there was alcohol, I was drinking it. I did not take my first sip of alcohol until I was 17 and at my high school graduation party. By 18, I was a professional at mixing hard liquor with just about anything.
Alcohol for me became a vice. I did not feel like I fit in anywhere, despite having pledged a phenomenal sorority. I always felt like the awkward one...like the third wheel. I was not religious enough at the time for the girls who were passionate about their faith. I was not nerdy enough for the girls who spent their free time in the library. I was not a cheerleader or any kind of athlete and I still had braces so I did not feel like I, in any way, was pretty enough for the popular girls. I felt stuck somewhere on the outside. Alcohol and partying seemed like my way in.
Alcohol masked my depression--or at least I thought it did. In reality, all it did was enhance it. I could go out, party, have a “good time” then come home and feel guilty about it. I spent about 18 months waking up needing and craving the buzz that came when I was partying. Alcohol made me feel alive and cool and part of the crowd. It was not until a close friend hit a tree head on after drinking and driving that I was able to put the alcohol down. I met my husband during that time and after a whirlwind romance, we decided to get married.
Fast forward just a bit, and I went from new wife to new mother. Postpartum depression nearly took me under. Our son was colicky, we lived nowhere near family, my husband worked long hours, and I had no friends. I thought many times about calling it quits and throwing in the towel on my life as a whole. There are no words to describe the overwhelming power of the pit of depression. Here I was with a newborn baby and a husband and all I could think about six days out of seven was putting an end to it all.
Our son was about nine months old when I was finally able to see that I was spiraling. After a very long week with him (he was cutting two teeth and not sleeping), I took him out for a picnic at the park down the street from our house. During that brief little outdoor excursion, a sweet little lady stopped and told me something that changed my entire perspective:
That little boy absolutely adores you. You can see it in his face. I have two sons of my own and there is nothing more precious than the bond that you will always share with him. You’re his mama and there will never be another like you.
I looked at my son and knew, in that moment, that throwing in the towel was not an option. I loved that little boy with every fiber of my being. I knew I needed to do something. I knew I had to do something. That night, I got down on my knees and prayed that God would walk me through this journey. I started counseling and was clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. There was no magic formula to “fixing” myself and there was no simple solution that just cured it all. It was the simple words of a stranger that slowed down long enough to put life in perspective when my own perspective had gotten so skewed.
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Courtney Kirkland is a military wife of 10 years, a mom to three, a disciple of Christ, a lover of words and passionate about scripture. When she's not chasing a child or doing the laundry, you can usually find her sipping a cup of coffee while listening to a podcast.